Virgin on the confusing

I spent some of today heading south from Crewe on a Virgin train. Their trains are pretty new, and seat reservations aren’t indicated by a bit of paper on the seat. Instead, there’s a little screen on the luggage rack that says whether the seat’s free (‘This seat is not reserved’) or taken.

If it’s taken then it says the stations the seat has been reserved between. This is handy – if the display says ‘Birmingham to Reading’ but you’re already well out of Birmingham, it’s safe to assume that the person meant to be in the seat hasn’t turned up, so you can take it yourself.

The benefits to the train company are obvious; there’ s no need to send staff through the train to put the right reservation cards on the right seats. One button and (presumably) it’s done.

Unfortunately it was all a bit too confusing for one of my fellow passengers today. At first he didn’t spot the screen. And then when he did, he assumed the seat was free because nowhere did it use the word ‘reserved’.

It was a busy train, and I’m honestly not sure if he was telling the truth or just pleading ignorance in the hope he’d be allowed to keep the seat. But either way, Virgin could make things clearer. It got me wondering whether a copywriter had written the text, or if they’d just gone with whatever the person who wrote the software put there.

A couple of small changes is all they’d need. They could add ‘Reserved from…’ to the copy on each screen. And some well-placed notices explaining how reserved seats are indicated would make it crystal clear. The displays aren’t that obvious, unless you’re particularly tall or know where to look.

Little changes like this can make a big difference when you’re trying to get a message across. The principle applies to websites as well – and one of the great things about working online is that it’s usually easy to make the edits.

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